My Anxiety Quick Fixes
For as long as I can remember, anxiety has played a key role in my daily emotional narrative. Some days he’s a supporting actor, other days he’s the director. Rarely is he an extra, and more often than not - he is practicing his acceptance speech for best actor in a leading role. (My anxiety is personified as a man because it is awful and making it a woman would therefore, be ridiculous). My anxiety has manifested in a variety of ways over the past 20 years. When I was younger, it was mostly in the form of tics, or as my family affectionately calls them: “twitches.” Basically, it's a body movement of some sort that, to me, was 99% involuntary. Yes, I could control them if I had to – but only for so long. After doing my best to appear "normal" in a public setting for about 15 minutes, I couldn’t suppress them anymore and I would erupt like Mount St. Helens, strangers nearby whispering “oh my, she obviously has Tourette’s!” And let me tell you, there have been some EMBARASSING twitches over the years.
Here’s a brief summary for your enjoyment (I encourage you to visualize):
- 6 years old: I had to put my thumbs side by side and stare at them, eyes open wide like a deer in headlights.
- 8 years old: I closed my left eye and turned my head to the right. Everything that disappeared from my sight as I turned to the right was “in my left eye pocket.” Yeah. My eye pocket.
- 12 years old: Had to use my neck muscles to get the invisible dot around my body. Yep.
- 14 years old: I had to look behind me, usually over my left shoulder. This resulted in A LOT of people thinking I was hitting on them. Unsuccessfully.
- 16 years old: I had to jerk my left boob forward. Mom likes to call this one “the dance.”
- 18 years old: Jerked my head back every 10 seconds. This one was painful.
That is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the gist. These tics were really a (un)healthy combo of anxiety and OCD, with most of them resulting in embarrassment, self-consciousness, being teased, made fun of, and a lot of extra stress, ultimately making the tics even worse. WHAT A FUN NEVERENDING CYCLE.
Fortunately, the tics have subsided greatly over time; I still have them, but today they appear in the form of more socially acceptable actions. Such as sniffing or clearing my throat. It’s easy for me to laugh about now (you’re allowed to too), but at the time it was constant distress.
I spent the majority of my adolescence trying to find a “cure” for my anxiety and OCD; mostly by seeing different therapists and switching amongst a variety of medications. I remember one weekday evening in middle school, I was lying on my bed trying to do my homework. I had 20+ pages to read and I had been reading the exact same sentence for 20 minutes. I physically could not move on to the next sentence. I just needed to keep reading that sentence over and over. This was the first time I felt like I was entirely out of control (obviously making my anxiety even worse). I sobbed to my mom and that was the first time we decided to pursue professional help.
Feeling a loss of control in any aspect of life can be an uncomfortable feelings. But when you feel as though you aren't even in control of your own mind, that's the ultimate loss of power.
First of all, therapy is great. I don’t care how perfect your life is, EVERYONE could use a therapist. I will never go without one. As I mentioned, I tried a few different anti-anxiety medications as well. Some worked great, but came with unbearable side effects (always seems to turn out that way, right?). But for me, this is how it worked out:
- Medication allowed me to get to a place of stillness in my mind where I could focus on therapy and learn how to cope with my anxiety and OCD.
- I was able to master enough coping skills where I could then come off on medication.
For me, medication was like training wheels. It helped me gain confidence and skill until I was strong and capable enough to succeed without it. Therefore, I am a strong advocate for both therapy and medication, when proven helpful.
But I know that several people either a) are unwilling to try medication for several reasons, which I totally support and understand, or b) can’t afford medication.
So, I would like to share two of my most used coping skills that I have found valuable over the course of my anxiety-filled life. Everyone responds differently to coping mechanisms, but these are very commonplace strategies that are likely to provide some emotional relief in times of distress, whether anxiety or depression related.
Mindfulness is a concept that can often sound very abstract and yoga-ish, but it doesn’t have to be! I’ve met a lot of people who say things like, “meditation doesn’t work for me, I’m not that deep” or “I don’t have that kind of concentration” or “I get too bored.” Well listen – those are all reasonable refusals, but none of them apply to mindfulness :) Here’s why:
Mindfulness does not have to be spiritual or religious whatsoever.
Mindfulness can be as short as you want it to be - like 30 seconds!
Mindfulness is using brain power continuously, leaving no time for boredom.
Mindfulness is simply the process of being aware in the present moment. It helps bring you back to the "now" instead of the past or future - two places we often gravitate toward during an anxious moment. It’s most helpful to begin practicing coping skills when you don’t need them. That way, you have the concentration, focus, and energy to master them. Then, when you really do need them, they will feel like second nature.
I know, it still probably sounds abstracty and yoga-ish. But watch – I will practice mindfulness for you right now. Ready? Kay here we go:
I’m fixing my vision on the edge of a picture frame hanging on the wall in front of me. I can see the charging light on my phone blinking out of the corner of my eye. I can smell the cinnamon scented candle burning in the dining room around the corner. My cat is purring in his giant cat castle in the corner of the room. He always purrs. You don’t even have to pet him, just shoot him a look and he gets excited. The couch is really warm on my back. I can hear the strong gusts of wind slightly rattling our front door every few seconds.
There you have it: mindfulness. I practice mindfulness every single day on the train on my way to work. I get comfortable in my seat, I pick a spot to stare, and I begin to describe all 5 senses to myself. What can I hear, what can I see, what can I smell? I set a timer on my phone for 5 minutes, and it vibrates once it’s over. Five minutes is kind of a long time, it's easier to start lower - maybe one minute to begin with, then work your way up.
My mom suggested mindfulness to me years ago; but as usual, mom’s know nothing. So I said “yeah sure, okay mom I’ll Google it.” Little did I know, this practice would become a five minute ritual that can calm my mind on command.
2. ESSENTIAL OILS
My love for essential oils began when Jesse started a new medication and was suffering from some pretty intolerable insomnia. He couldn’t fall asleep until 4am and then was up for the day by 5am. Obviously not a livable situation. So a friend of ours recommended a blend of essential oils to promote sleep. Now at the time, Jesse and I were both desperate for anything that could help the situation. But I never really bought into the whole aromatherapy thing – I’ve had several aromatherapy massages (because theyre usually 50% off on Groupon) and I have some spritzers I use around the house (to cover up litter box smell) but I’ve never actually considered the use of scents to enhance my well-being. But we bought the oil blend and tried it. And guys, I’m not kidding.. he was out in 5 minutes. It was unbelievable!
The capabilities of essential oils spread across the entire health spectrum – not just psychological. In an effort to prevent five more paragraphs about essential oils, I’ve summed up my experience with them in the table below. These are the main benefits that I have found from a few of my favorite oils.
The two ways I prefer to use essential oils, and probably the two most popular, are massaging and diffusing. For example, I would typically massage achy muscles with eucalyptus oil, and I would diffuse lavender when I'm feeling anxious. Diffusers are super easy to find and there are a ton of affordable options. I love the look of this one, but you can just search for "Essential Oil Diffuser" on Amazon and be busy for hours.
Another cool options you could go for is a personal diffuser. My mom bought me this for Christmas a couple of years ago and it's my go to for anxiety mitigation. It's basically a locket that contains a little felt circle, which you add a couple drops of the essential oil to. It's super easy, you can use it anywhere, and also... it's a necklace! How cool! I love mine.
There are countless other anxiety coping mechanisms, but there two are definitely my go-tos. I have an arsenal of coping skills, so I'll be sure to share more. Oh, and if you were curious, the insomnia oil blend was lemon, orange, bergamot, patchouli, and grapefruit.
Happy relaxing! (JK I'm a walking ball of nerves.)